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How to Travel Light: Why I Never Check a Bag when Flying

How to Travel Light. It’s not always easy, but it’s oh so worth it.


My first overseas adventure on my own was to the UK from New Zealand when I was 17. I had an ENORMOUS suitcase. It was so big. I also took a smaller suitcase, a backpack and a guitar. In a big, heavy case. Sometimes I had to do two trips just to get my stuff from A to B. NIGHTMARE.

Then I went to Japan and dragged another enormous suitcase up and down the stairways of the Tokyo underground (I’m not kidding, the suitcase was too big to fit on the Japanese escalators.) One time I accidentally let the suitcase handle slip from my sweaty grasp and it went sliding out of control down the stairs, almost smacking in to several of the shrieking people throwing themselves out of the way. It hit the bottom and went sliding towards the rail line. I just watched, exhausted and panting, as I slowly made my way back down the stairs to get it.

You get the picture. Sure, most people would have just paid for a taxi to get from A to B. I was never one of those people. After all, if I had, I wouldn’t have the stories to tell. And oh, I have a lot of stories.

But back to the point. I wish I would have understood the concept of travelling light back in those days. I see backpackers every day who have ridiculously sized bags. I often wonder what the heck is in them – I guess it’s fair if you’re buying souvenirs to take home and you have a place for them. But it’s not for me.

I don’t have a home and I don’t have a lot of stuff. I travel country by country, spending a few months at a time in each. Long enough to get a short term apartment and learn some of the language. I have one 30L backpack and one 2L day bag. All I own in the world right now is less than 10kg of stuff (about 25lb.) I live this way for two reasons:


Stuff is high maintenance


Things break, they need updating or replacing or maintenance. I paid thousands for my car in New Zealand and then had to pay for insurance, registration, a warrant of fitness and then a service every now and again – and then the oil, steering fluid, the broken door lock and then it starts making a weird sound…OH MY GOD. You guys.

Carrying around clothing so you have a good selection to choose from every day and all the other stuff people take with them, is fine if you’re in one place for awhile. But seems unnecessary for a month long trip where you’re on the move.


I just don’t need much to live.


I decided I’d strip everything in my life down to what I really needed to survive when living the way I want (passport, visas, bank cards) and then started adding from there. How many pairs of underwear do I need? And how can I make it easiest on myself to carry them? Well in cheaper countries it’s only a few dollars to do laundry. And I bought 4 pairs of the best undies in the world which dry really quickly and I just wash them in the shower.
I brought four tank tops which roll up really small. I brought two pairs of shorts and two t shirts. I replace the t shirts as I go.

Sure I’ve got a few tech things and my hair straightener (my one luxury item – actually without it I look like an insane person so I made the call. Excellent decision.) But what I’ve got is so low maintenance that I can just pack up and go in five minutes and I can even walk places with all my stuff.


How Much Stuff to Take

Back to the point again – travelling with 30L (my magic number, although I think 40L would be great too as long as you could fit it in the overhead space on a plane) makes it easy to check in for flights, get in and out of the airport quickly and make you feel relatively normal while travelling – not like a zombie who’s just waiting to get to the next hotel room. When you check bags, your stuff is owning you. You’re waiting longer at airports, heaving stuff onto trollies and sweating like a pig trying to get the stuff in and out of taxis, when you could just swing your bag onto your knee on a bus for a quarter of the price. Sometimes you pay extra to have things with you, and you never end up using them.


If you’re doing a trip soon, I recommend revisiting your packing list. What do you need? Why do you need it?
Do you have any epic overpacking stories?


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